Wurlitzer Style 31 Concert PianOrchestra
Philipps Pianella Model 31

Original Location: San Francisco, California

Hypothetical Catalogue Specifications:

56 Note Musical Scale (Hypothetical Instrumentation):

Special Lighting Effects:


Chronological History:

Circa 1907/1908
Manufactured by J.D. Philipps & Sons, Bockenheim, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

Circa 1908/1909
Imported and sold by Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, New York.

When examining the post card illustrated below (and dated August 6, 1909), applying sufficient magnification reveals that the instrument pictured is definitely a Wurlitzer Concert PianOrchestra, as the decal just underneath the roll case door's glass panel is legible enough to discern the words "Concert PianOrchestra." Then, peering at several hazy metallic appearing reflections barely visible through the roll case door's glass, and by paying attention to the spatial proximity around and between the few observable contours, it can be inferred that the instrument was fitted with an automatic roll changer. But due to the lack of sufficient detail, this conclusion is not absolutely certain. High priced PianOrchestras of this vintage were regularly shipped from the factory equipped with nothing more than a single roll mechanism. This is because it was still often the practice to have an attendant operate a large and fine orchestrion, playing music as requested and paid for by the establishment's patrons. Not until the roll-changer became a standard item in later years, circa 1910 and onward, was it included in the advertised price. Before this time, Wurlitzer advertised it as an option for $200.00 extra.

By carefully observing the case style, its various appointments and relative size and depth, it is presumed that this particular instrument is probably akin to, if not in fact, a style 31 Concert PianOrchestra. That the case design here does not fit a known catalogue illustration is not unusual. There are many examples of a particular model, such as the style 32, having several very different case designs over the production span of that particular numerical model. Some of the case variations known to have once existed are known only by surviving photographs, happily noted as to the style, but never included in any observed catalogues. However, until either a Philipps or Wurlitzer catalogue surfaces that accurately depicts this instrument, its model number will remain in doubt.

Unusual for a Concert PianOrchestra is the "Fancy Lamp" located at the top center of the machine's facade. Nested in a sparkling cone of narrow mirrors, the center fixture, containing an electric bulb, rotates and casts colorful patterns of light on the matrix of silvered mirrors, producing a Kaleidoscope of dancing colors meant to enthrall the PianOrchestra's audience. Lighting devices like this were usually reserved for the smaller and more brightly voiced Mandolin PianOrchestras, which featured musical arrangements more perfectly attuned to "unrefined" and boisterous locations, such as busy "parlors" and raucous bars. The construction of the central rotating portion of the German made "Fancy Lamp" was later redesigned, and it's new and more easily manufactured rotating center part was thereafter soon copied by Wurlitzer. However, Wurlitzer's version was slightly smaller, and it was called the "Wonderlamp." It was used predominantly in several Wurlitzer U.S. made orchestrions, such as the Bijou Orchestra and the popular style CX and LX type keyboard Piano Orchestras.

Soon after the Model 31 Pianella had been imported into Wurlitzer's huge North Tonawanda, New York, factory, where Wurlitzer technicians installed the necessary standard U.S. electrical wiring, lighting, and motor, the newly christened Style 31 Concert PianOrchestra was probably shipped to San Francisco's famous musical instrument dealers Kohler & Chase.

Circa 1909
Kohler & Chase, San Francisco, California.

It is unknown how long the PianOrchestra might have been in stock, awaiting a purchaser, although it is probably certain that the instrument was set up in the Kohler & Chase's downtown San Francisco showroom for display. This was the custom for such large and expensive automatic musical instruments.

Circa 1909
The Old Louvre Cafe, San Francisco, California.

The great Wurlitzer PianOrchestra in the Old Louvre Cafe at the corner of Powell and Ellis Streets (1909), San Francisco, California.
"A Corner of THE OLD LOUVRE CAFE, corner Powell and Ellis Streets, San Francisco, showing the great WURLITZER ORCHESTRION installed by KOHLER & CHASE."

Nothing much is known about the Old Louvre Cafe, except that it was at the corner of Powell and Ellis Streets, and it did contain a large Wurlitzer Concert PianOrchestra, as well as a phone booth (left side of photograph) and lots of tables. It is presumed that the stairway near the center of the photograph led up to the proprietors living quarters, or, if not, perhaps rooms for patrons to enjoy themselves and the PianOrchestra's lilting melodies.

The white casework of the instrument looks to be clean and free of any major damage. The base-board does show what appears to be a slight amount of scuffing at the floor line, but only in the area below the roll case door, which was a common condition. This is because changing the music roll requires the operator to reach into the machine and manipulate the music roll. During the process, it was very common for the tips of shoes to bang into and chafe at the case along the floor-line, leaving dark streaks along the bottom edge. Another common source of damage along the bottom edge came from water, and from the abrasion and gouges made by mops, during careless mopping and cleaning of the floor. Many large orchestrions suffered greatly this way, showing extensive rot and gouging near the bottom edge. The longer the instrument was in service, the more pronounced this kind of damage tended to be. Thus, observing the near pristine condition of this instrument, it is probable that the PianOrchestra was fairly new to the Old Louvre Cafe at the time it was photographed.

"... from the Land of Bohemia," message side of Old Louvre Cafe post card, dated August 6, 1909.
"... from the Land of Bohemia," Postmarked August 7, 1909.
(Backside of the great Wurlitzer PianOrchestra post card.)

No further historical data is currently known about either the Old Louvre Cafe or the Wurlitzer orchestrion. However, the above Concert PianOrchestra is presumed to have been destroyed long ago.


Information provided by Terry Hathaway.


Photographic post card courtesy of Terry Smythe.